The Origins of the Texas-Style of Traditional Old Time Fiddling
Among the traditional old-time folk fiddling styles that are usually recognized in Anglo-American, the one that is most distinctive, unique, and easily recognized is the Texas-Style of old-time fiddling. Named for its place of origin and evolution, it is also referred to as the "super style" and the "contest style." This is because it has become the standard for many of the fiddling contests in the U. S. and, more often than not, it is the Texas fiddler that is the top winner in fiddling contests throughout much of the country.
Much has been written about Texas fiddling by folklorists and ethnomusicologists, but none have adequately considered the topic involving the origins of the tradition, which will be the subject of this writing. There is the notion that the style is possibly an extension of Irish fiddling.1 Another idea offered the possibility that it came over from Europe by way of Cape Breton Island, down to Kentucky and then to Texas.2 More specifically, another suggestion was the possibility that famous Texas fiddler, Benny Thomasson visited the blind Kentucky fiddler, Ed Haley on several occasions back in the 1940s and learned the long bow method of fiddling from him.3 Finally, there was the notion advanced by a Texas musician that an East Texas fiddler by the name of Ben Hooks was using the long bow method of fiddling very early in the 1900s and through some form of diffusion process, could have been the beginning of the style.4 These are not much more than suggestions and as such, fall short of addressing the main issue which is the origin of the tradition, a much more difficult and complex topic.
Folk fiddling in general in the U. S. can be traced back to the arrival of John Utie, a professional fiddler from England, who sailed up the James River on the Francis Boneventure in 1620 and settled in Virginia. The arrival of Utie was the beginning of the transfer of an established Anglo-Irish tradition that would eventually manifest itself throughout much of Anglo-America in the many traditional fiddling styles that are recognized today. When and where the Texas-style had its earliest beginnings is not known. However, according to a number of early twentieth century newspaper articles, there was a distinctive and ongoing fiddling style in place by the 1920s.5
Unfortunately, there is no information as to the nature of the fiddling prior to the 1920s. But fiddlers in Texas history can be traced back to a time frame prior to the Civil War. There are records and accounts that mention the names of fiddlers who were born in Texas before the Civil War or immigrated to Texas early on. They include: Major L. Burns who was born in Tennessee in 1835 and moved to Montgomery County, Texas, about 1845; Reverend A. McGary, who was born in Huntsville in 1846; and a Civil War Veteran, Arch Bozzell of Parker County just to mention a few. An interesting name that should be added to this list is that of Joe Robertson. His birth date is not known but he is the grandfather of Alexander Campbell "Eck" Robertson, who was born in Arkansas in 1883, ended up in Amarillo, and was a significant contributor to the Texas-style. In addition there is the story of Davy Crockett who was also a fiddler. He played the instrument in the Alamo, along with John MacGregor, a bagpipe player from Nacogdoches when it was under siege by the Mexican Army. Unfortunately, nothing specific can be disclosed relative to the fiddle music that was performed by these people, other than to indicate that they were fiddlers and that they performed fiddle music in Texas.
It isn't until the recordings of the 1920s by Texas fiddlers, that substantive information becomes available and the style is available for public consumption. There is however, some evidence that helps in providing some insight (crude as it might be) into early Texas fiddling. For example, there is a 1907 photo of "Eck" Robertson with fiddle and his wife, Nettie, with a guitar that may indicate he was performing very early in the twentieth century and with guitar accompaniment.
Also, about the same time, in the backwoods of Deep East Texas, fiddlers often referred to the E, A, D, and G strings of the instrument as "tribble," "tenor," "counter," and "bass." This is terminology used in Sacred Harp vocal music and might raise a question as to whether or not there might have been a connection between it and folk fiddling. The Rev. A. McGary, originally from Huntsville, was a Campbellite preacher and a very good fiddler. He quit fiddling while he was a preacher and when he retired from preaching, took up the fiddle again. He claims to have learned to fiddle from a Negro slave who belonged to his grandfather. Matt Brown, a fiddler who lived near Amarillo, is credited with the very popular fiddle tune, "Done Gone," that he composed during the infancy of the automobile. The tale relates to Brown's attempt to hitch a ride in a Model T but is unsuccessful and as the autos pass him by, he remarks, "done gone." The tune is still a very popular within the Texas fiddling repertoire. He is also credited with a waltz, "Brown's Kelly Waltz" which is also very popular with the Texas fiddlers.
Also, there is the story about a fiddler, George Booker, and a tune entitled "George Booker," that is occasionally performed by Texas fiddlers. George Booker was a well-known fiddler from Nacogdoches who was being held in jail there for murder. On the day before he was to be executed, he talked the sheriff into allowing him to play for a dance the night before with the sheriff as a chaperone. Booker performed well probably knowing this would his last time to play in the area. About three o'clock in the morning, Booker went out on the porch for some air and that was the last anyone had ever seen of him. The last tune he played at the dance was one of his favorites, "Fine Times at Our House," is now performed as "George Booker." This is a story that is told by J. B. Cranfill, (1858-1942) originally from Parker County who was a popular fiddler in the Dallas area. He was also a medical doctor, a leader in the Baptist Church and a newspaper writer. He wrote some very informative articles on old-time fiddling for Dallas and Houston newspapers that gave detailed accounts of fiddling activities of the period. The information also helped to support the idea that Texas fiddling was different from the other styles as early as the 1920s. 6
If there is any truth to the George Booker tale, it might be difficult to prove because there are too many other locations and events where someone has been in a similar predicament and was able to play their way to freedom. On the other hand, the fact that a tune entitled "George Booker" was published as early as 1839 by George P. Knauff in New York might provide the above with a measure of credibility.
"George Booker," is not a tune used in contests but is still a favorite of Texas fiddlers. It is often played by Smokey Butler of Huntington, Carl Hopkins of Porter, and has been recorded by the late Terry Morris, one of the great legends of Texas fiddling.
The Texas-style of old-time fiddling is difficult to describe with words unless there is some music to reinforce or underline the descriptive analysis. In any event, Texas fiddling involves generous use of the bow employing all manner of bowing strokes and manipulations along with well coordinated wrist and forearm action, coupled with an amazing finger action by the hand making the notes on the finger board (flashy fingering). The Texas fiddler emphasizes the down bow stroke in contrast to the Appalachian "shove and pull" style that emphasizes the up bow stroke. The result is a very articulate, clea, and rich sound cluttered and embellished with slurs, slides, double stops, and octave shifts. According to Tom Nall, retired history professor at Stephen F. Austin State, it is the most "baroque" of fiddling styles.
This rather unique quality stems in part at least from the fact that it evolved at a time when square dancing was declining and fiddle music in Texas was being fashioned more for listening and entertainment. In executing a tune, the Texas fiddler avoids the repetition and monotony of the two-part Appalachian fiddle tune in favor of those tunes that are more complex and exceed the two-part limit. Also, the Texas fiddler uses improvisation, enough improvisation to remain within easy reach of the melody line, but never deviating too far from the melody line to render it unrecognizable. What emerges in this and practically any other Texas-style rendition, is a continuous set of highly ornamental variations that does not totally obscure the melody. The result is a harmonic framework or structure that has been the basis for contest standards used in contest fiddling not only in Texas but throughout much of the U. S.
The bowing technique that is necessary to obtain the effect as described above, is often referred to as the long bow, a technique that "Eck" Robertson of Amarillo used in his 1922 recording of "Sally Goodin." Because this tune was such an interesting as well as a radical departure from other fiddle tunes that were recorded in the 1920s, there are some who maintain that this was the actual beginning of the Texas-style of old-time fiddling. This is hardly the case. Robertson should be credited more with "jump starting" country music during the early 1920s and not single handedly creating the Texas style of old-time fiddling.7 Moreover, "Sally Goodin" was the only tune he recorded that involved using the "long bow" technique. For the most part, all but "Goodin" and a few other recordings by Robertson sound more like Appalachian fiddling with its attendant "shove and pull" bowing action. The long bow at this point may be considered as just one stage in a rather complex ongoing evolutionary process that ultimately results in a bowing technique that combines the long bow movement with other manipulations and actions that now characterize the baroque signature of Texas fiddling.
Aside from "Sally Goodin," Robertson recorded several tunes on the Victor and Brunswick record labels. There were two sessions, one in 1922 and again in 1929. However, from each session, only a small number have survived to become an integral part of the Texas tradition as it is recognized today. Among the fiddle tunes from the 1922 session that favor the Texas style (other than "Sally Goodin") are "Ragtime Annie," "Done Gone," and a medley, "Sally Johnson/Billy in the Low Ground." The quality of these recordings was remarkable in spite of the primitive acoustic recording technology. Also, the quality was no doubt enhanced by Robertson's clean, precise, and articulate fiddling ability. There is very little difference in the way in which the tunes are performed today compared to Robertson's recordings.
One of the more interesting tunes from the 1922 session other than "Sally Goodin," was "Done Gone." This is because, as recorded, it was in B flat, had three parts, one part in G minor, and used piano accompaniment. Also, the fact that one part of the tune is in a lengthy G minor key makes it a rather unusual one for fiddlers because not many of the tunes performed back in 1922-23 had a minor key part. "Done Gone" as well as the other tunes mentioned above, as performed today, are virtually unchanged from the time of the first recordings. In other words, famous Texas fiddler, Jimmie Don Bates of Austin, performs "Done Gone," one of his favorite contest tunes, almost the same as Robertson's recording.
Robertson's 1929 recording session was also a productive one. Among those tunes that have become a part of the Texas tradition are "Brilliancy Medley," or just "Brilliancy," "There's a Brownskin Girl Down the Road Somewhere," (known today as simply, "Brownskin Gal") " and "Brown's Kelly Waltz," or "Kelly Waltz." The original recording of "Brilliancy" was a medley of several fiddle tunes and included "Durang's Hornpipe," "Drunken Billy Goat," "Wake Up Susan," "Old Billy Wilson," and "Bill Cheatum." The tune has since been abbreviated somewhat to include just two tunes, "Durang's Hornpipe" and "Drunken Billy Goat."8
The success of Robertson's first recording session opened the door for other Texas fiddlers at that time and resulted in recorded fiddle music that was also important in influencing the nature and direction of the style. Many of the recordings of this period were of tunes that are still performed today and are relatively unchanged. They have been "cleaned up" and in some cases, changed a bit but not excessively. This is to suggest that the Texas-style of old time-fiddling as we know it today, had been pretty well established by the time phonograph records and radios became established. These two innovations would help to hasten the transition that was ongoing from the "short stroke Appalachian" style to the complex long bow technique that is fundamental to the Texas style.
Shortly after the Robertson recording session in 1922, Captain M. J. Bonner, a Civil War veteran recorded two tunes, "Yearlings (Cattle?) in the Canebreak" and "Dusty Miller" in 1923. Both tunes are departures from the "shove and pull" "Old Zip Coon" fiddling back then and the tunes used minor chords and were more than just two part tunes. "Dusty Miller" is one of the most frequently performed tunes within the Texas fiddling contest circuit and "Canebreak" can be an interesting challenge to the fiddler because it is rather difficult to play as well as accompany. Bonner is also remembered as the premier old-time musician to play on the very first radio "barn dance" broadcast over station WBAP in Ft. Worth on January. 4, 1923.9
Other recordings of the 1920s that deserve mention include the East Texas Serenaders, Smith's Garage Fiddle Band, and Solomon and Hughes. The Serenaders were a full-fledged string band that featured some remarkable fiddling by Huggin D. Williams ably accompanied by a guitar, tenor banjo, and a three-string cello (bowed as well as plucked by Henry Bogan who pronounced cello as "sellah"). The group came from Mineola, performed mainly in that area, and their longest gig was a six month affair at Seal's Cafe in Tyler at some point in the late 20s. They recorded from 1927-1936 for Columbia, Brunswick, and Decca and much of their material was more popular music oriented than country.10 Their main contribution to Texas fiddling was a waltz entitled "Shannon Waltz." Williams claimed that he learned the tune from an itinerant fiddler known only as a Mr. Briggs who came from up north. Whether that is up north as in north of the Red River or as in New England is not known.
"Shannon Waltz" was recorded in 1927 and played in the key of F, had an introduction, three parts, and featured a flatted 5th chord in the third part, a rather unusual musical innovation for the period. It is still performed but Texas fiddlers usually leave out the flatted 5th. The group also recorded a fine rendition of the "Beaumont Rag" in 1937. It featured double fiddles, an octave shift, and a circle of 5ths in the chord structure that finally resolves in F chord.
The "Beaumont Rag," has been recorded by country music fiddlers, more often than any other ragtime tune. It has been recorded and performed under other titles, i. e., "White River Stomp," " Bob Mitchell," and "Possum Rag." The origin of the tune is uncertain. However, it was suggested by Mr. Walter Mears, of Alvarado, that Samuel Peacock, the fiddler in Smith's Garage Fiddle Band may have been the composer. Peacock and his two brothers, John and Charlie, were the musicians that comprised that group. According to Mr. Walter Mears of Alvarado, Sam Peacock ran a ten-chair barbershop in Corsicana around the turn of the twentieth century and Mears said that he actually met John in about 1948 or 49 in Alvarado where he was a judge at a fiddle contest.
Smith's Garage Fiddle Band recorded rather extensively from 1928-1930 for Vocalion Records.11 Their repertoire was entirely fiddle tunes. Aside from "Beaumont Rag," their recordings include "Done Gone," "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," "Rag Time Annie," "Limerock," "Gray Eagle," and "Tom and Jerry." These are all remarkably similar in the way in which they are played by Texas fiddlers today and are basically structurally unchanged.
Another memorable recording of the 1920s is entitled "Sally Johnson," by Ervin Solomon and Joe Hughes. It was recorded in 1929 and is important because it most closely reflects some of the more important structural features of Texas fiddling, the use of the bow and the "flashy" fingering. Also, the tempo was much slower. As a rule, most Texas fiddle tunes are played at a slower tempo compared to the Appalachian or New England styles. Depending on the fiddle tune, Texas fiddlers average between about 110-115 beats per minute and a tune such as "Mississippi Sawyer," as performed by Tommy Jackson or Wade Ray, will have a tempo of about 150 beats per minute. Ervin Solomon was also the father of two sons, Norman and Vernon, who also have become legends of Texas fiddling.
Only the fiddlers who have recorded have been discussed up to this point. However, there were a number of excellent fiddlers who never recorded at all, but deserve mention because they too, influenced the style. Lefty Franklin, who performed with Doctor Howard's Dixie Fiddlers in the early 1920s, was the creator of "There's a Brownskin Girl Down the Road Somewhere." Matt Brown, another fiddler who never recorded, was the originator of two fiddling classics, "Done Gone," and "Limerock."12 This latter tune was recorded by fiddler Samuel Peacock of Smith's Garage Fiddle Band in 1929, with two parts in the key of A and D. It was eventually cleaned up with another part added in the key of E by the late Bryant Houston, a fiddler, originally from Cisco, Texas, and Houston's is the form in which it is played today.
Both Franklin and Brown were contemporaries of Eck Robertson. They competed against one another in contests, were frequently called upon to perform at house dances and similar functions, and no doubt, were important influences on Robertson's skill as a fiddler.
Eck Robertson made his first recording in 1922 at about the same time commercial radio broadcasting had its beginnings and was also an important early influence. Charles Farout, in his liner notes on the Texas Farewell album (County 517) states that "Most of the records made in Texas in the 1920s were of fiddle tunes and even the radio stations felt no compunction about programming bands that featured the fiddle." An example of this is a fiddle band known as the "Red Headed Fiddlers," that featured fiddler A. L. "Red" Steeley and Red Graham on banjo. They had a radio program in Ft. Worth for about 10 years during the 1920s up to about the time of the Depression.. The program was almost entirely fiddling. There is little doubt early radio programming of this type, had a significant impact on the style. Even today, many of the senior fiddlers remember Steeley and his radio program and admit that he was a "damned good fiddler." Steely and Graham recorded a tune in 1928 entitled, "Texas Quickstep," which is a good example of a very tight and unified fiddle and banjo duet. This tune was also known as "Rachael's Hornpipe," and is attributed to Rachael Jackson, wife of President Andrew Jackson. They also recorded one called, " Fatal Wedding," that is now known as, "I Don't Love Nobody," and is a strong favorite among Texas fiddlers.
Texas fiddlers also were listening not only to fiddle music but just about any type of music that was broadcast in the 1920s and well into the 1930s. The legendary Texas fiddler, Benny Thomasson, admits listening to jazz, big band, even some classical music. In the late 1920s, jazz violinist, Joe Venuti, used a bowing technique that is described as an off-beat shuffling movement, called hokum or double shuffle by Texas fiddlers and is widely used when performing such tunes as "Rag Time Annie" and "Beaumont Rag." Venuti made three recordings in 1927 that featured the double shuffle, "Goin' Places," "Four String Joe," and "Kicking the Cat." It is probably from "Four String Joe" that offered the strongest influence because it displayed the technique most closely resembling that used by Texas fiddlers. Samuel Peacock, fiddler in Smith's Garage Fiddle Band made limited use of the double shuffle in the 1928 recordings of "Ragtime Annie" and "Done Gone." But it was Cecil Brower a fiddler with the Musical Brownies who initially mastered the double shuffle and used it to great effect and passed it along to Texas fiddlers in the early 1930s. Brower had been classically trained and was superior to about every fiddler in the business. He could improvise as well double shuffle and contributed much to early western swing as well as old-time fiddling. It is also of interest to note that the double shuffle is seldom used in other fiddling styles, such as the Appalachian and Southern style. Also, the two most popular tunes that use the double shuffle, "Orange Blossom Special" and "Black Mountain Rag" are seldom performed at contests because they are novelty tunes and involve trick fiddling according to some of the Texas fiddling purists.
Other jazz violinists of the period that are mentioned by Texas fiddlers include Hezekiah "Stuff" Smith and Stefan Grappelli. They were, along with Venuti, important also for their ability to improvise, a characteristic which has been picked by the Texas-style and has become one of the more distinguishing and distinctive characteristics of what is often considered as good Texas fiddling. Improvisation is more often associated with western swing but most all of the early western swing groups featured the fiddle, and there was always a part of the radio program that featured a fiddle tune embellished with "hot licks" that were picked up from jazz fiddlers.
It was during the transition from the fiddle band of the 1920s to the western swing band of the 1930s that musical tastes changed from instrumental to vocal music for dancing and for entertainment in general. The result was that fiddling had to change. This transition marked the end of the monotony of the repetitious, two-part fiddle tune in favor of more complicated numbers that changed keys, used minor chords, also, the circle of 5ths in ragtime tunes, and other very colorful innovations. These innovations were picked up from radio broadcasts of the many swing bands across the state and over time, were incorporated into the Texas fiddling style. Milton Brown and the Musical Brownies always played a fiddle tune on their daily broadcasts, using the talents of such fiddling personalities as Cecil Brower and Cliff Bruner, who are well known in the Texas fiddling circles. Adolph Hofner and the San Antonians featured the talents of fiddler J. R. Chatwell, who inspired Johnny Gimble with his rendition of the "Zenda Waltz." Bill and Jim Boyd and the Cowboy Ramblers had fiddler Art Davis who is best known for the "Barn Dance Rag" and the Lightcrust Doughboys used the talents of Curly Fox and his performance of the "Saturday Night Rag."
Famous fiddler, E. J. Hopkins of Porter, Texas, tells the story that when working in a refinery in the late 1940s near Houston, he had just fifteen minutes after work to get home in order to catch the end of the 11 PM Roy Acuff program. It would feature one fiddle tune by Howard Forrester. He said he would make it home just in time for that part of the program, just to listen to the fiddling of Forrester.
Prior to Acuff, Forrester was a fiddler with Georgia Slim (Robert Rutland) and the Texas Roundup, a western swing band that operated out of Dallas in the mid-1940s. Rutland and Forrester were featured fiddlers on two daily broadcasts from Dallas about this time. Smokey Butler relates that he seldom missed their 5:45 AM program known as "Georgia Slim and the Texas Roundup," and a noon program called the "Cornbread Matinee," because they always played a fiddle tune.
Virtually all the fiddle tunes that were played on the radio by fiddlers such as Rutland and Forrester, were emulated by such Texas fiddlers as Benny Thomasson, Lewis Franklin, Major Franklin, and Orville Burns just to mention a few. Examples include Rutland's version of "Katy Hill" and Forester's rendition of "Dusty Miller." Many Texas fiddlers are unwilling to admit that these professional musicians had any effect on the style. In fact some have gone so far as to say that fiddlers such as Forrester and others, would show up at the contests and "learn some of the licks" from the contest fiddlers. This was hardly the case. Most of the groups mentioned above simply did not have the time to allow their fiddler to haunt a contest unless perhaps, they were hired to entertain at one.
These professional bands in most cases were encumbered with two daily radio shows, nightly engagements, and weekend dances. Western Swing fiddler, Johnny Gimble tells the story that it was suggested to him by Benny Thomasson, that he (Gimble) learn a few Texas fiddle tunes so he could enter a contest and maybe make enough in prize money to buy a tank of gas.13
Texas fiddling, as performed today, probably came into its own by the early 1960s and was represented by such prime movers as Benny Thomasson, Major Franklin, Lewis Franklin, Orville Burns, Dick Barrett, and Norman and Vernon Solomon. These are all familiar names in Texas fiddling but the one that is most recognized as the main force behind the style today, is that of Thomasson. Because so much has been written and published about Thomasson only the most significant of his fiddling bona fides will be considered here. He was born in Gatesville in 1914, began fiddling at age 13 or 14 in a family of musicians and was influenced initially by Matt Brown, Lefty Franklin, and Eck Robertson. He began honing his skills by learning from these early fiddlers and from radio as well as recordings. West Virginia fiddler, Clark Kessinger, who was a prolific recorder of fiddle tunes in the 1920s-30s, was one of his favorites. He had great respect for Major Franklin and other of his contemporaries that he "swapped tunes with." He admits to the influences of jazz violin legends such as Venuti and Grappelli, as well as classical violinist Florian Zabach.14 Thomasson was able to improve upon a tune each time he performed it by giving some part of it a new twist or flourish. His playing was clean, full, precise, and robust. He had a vast repertoire that included all manner of breakdowns, reels, hornpipes, polkas, and waltzes as well as tunes from other fiddling styles. He also had tunes that were not the typical fiddle breakdown, such as "President Garfield's March," learned from a Clark Kessinger recording, and tunes borrowed from the jazz era of the 1920s such as "Kansas City Kitty," "Sweet Georgia Brown," and "That's A Plenty." He was also a composer and his best known composition is "Midnight on the Water."15 Thomasson was indeed, the main Texas-style influence for the much of the current crop of Texas fiddlers. Smokey Butler once said that, "Ever body wanted to play like ole Benny."
The most important activity that has sustained the Texas style from the 1950s on is the fiddling contest. Contests go back to the nineteenth century in Texas, but it has been from the 1950s on that we have the best records and accounts. Another factor that deserves mention is the fact that fiddling and its ongoing process has been in part, a family affair. The contest is an event that brings together all ages and levels of talent, male and female, and for a day or two, will compete for cash prizes, have jam sessions, get drunk, raise hell with the judges because they didn't win, and occasionally, entertain the audience and have a little fun. The contests have come under criticism because the harmonic musical dynamics that Texas fiddling is based upon has been the basis for the standards used in much of the contest fiddling and for judging. The style has become so tightly focused that it is not unusual to hear the same tune played repeatedly by different contestants, and "Its not just any body that can play "Sally Goodin" the way hits post to," as quoted by Major Franklin.
During the runoff at the 1997 Crockett, Texas Edition of the Texas Old Time Fiddlers Association contest, the tune, "Tom and Jerry," was played by six out of the ten contestants. Other frequently played tunes included "Sally Goodin," "Gray Eagle," "Sally Johnson," "Durang's Hornpipe," "Dusty Miller," "Limerock," "Apple Blossom," "Brilliancy," and "Black and White Rag." Occasionally, some one got by with slipping in a tune such as "Whistling Rufus," or "Florida Blues," but not often. Finally, the contest is about the only event or place remaining where the Texas fiddler can show off his or her skill. There is no market for the music on the radio or television. Occasionally, Public Broadcasting may feature some Texas fiddling on a folklore oriented program or on one such as the very popular, "Prairie Home Companion." Then at times, Texas fiddling may be featured on some low-powered, early morning, FM radio station, squeezed in with the Bluegrass music. Some Texas fiddlers exercise their skill by farming out with western swing bands and play for dances and as pick up musicians for one-night stand touring country and western bands. Others give fiddling lessons. Some are practically making a living by this. Joey and Sherry McKenzie of Mansfield, Texas, teach fiddling. Valerie and Lydia Ryals in Burleson have some 400 fiddle students and instruct note for note the Texas-style.
The Texas style tradition has, in part, passed along within families. E. J. Hopkins, of Porter, passed it along to his son, Carl. His wife, Tonya is also an excellent fiddler. There is the Westmoreland clan of Comanche, Texas. They account for a number of fiddlers, most notable is Wes Westmoreland, who performed with the Mel Tills show in Branson, Missouri, for a number of years and is now in pharmacy school in Houston enabling him to be back on the contest fiddling circuit. Then finally, there is James (Texas Shorty) Chancellor of Rockwall, Texas, who is one of the most, if not the most, accomplished and talented of present day Texas fiddlers. His is also a family affair in that his father, James Houston Chancellor, was an accomplished fiddler and it was his mother, Bessie Lee Chancellor, who taught him his first fiddle tune. Chancellor has been fiddling for more than forty years, in contests as well as professionally. John Hartford once stated that, "When I hear Jim Chancellor play the fiddle, I see trees, flowers, green meadows, clear running water, and all manner of pastoral beauty." He usually performs with his entourage of mainly family members; his wife Ruthie who plays bass fiddle and brother Robert on guitar. Chancellor's style is smooth, clean, precise, and sparkling. This analogy can best be underscored by listening to the CD recording of Hartford on the banjo and Chancellor on fiddle entitled "Texas Shorty and John Hartford, Old Sport," (Small Dog A Barkin', P. O. Box 443, Madison, TN 37116).
Any discourse on Texas fiddling would hardly be complete without some mention of the kind of accompaniment that is used along with the fiddler. The guitar is the instrument of choice for the accompanist nowadays. But in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the fiddler performed solo or in unison with other fiddlers. The earliest form of accompaniment was probably with the five-string banjo that was ultimately replaced by the guitar in the 1920s. Early guitar picking featured open chords and bass string runs, probably borrowed from Riley Puckett, guitarist for the famed Skillet Lickers. This would evolve, over the years into a guitar style that can best be attributed to the late Omega Burden of Denison. He was perhaps the earliest to use an almost continuous progression of closed chord changes (for each beat, a different chord, almost) as well as the closed chop chord that accounts for an almost percussive rhythm. This also enables the guitar to harmonize with the fiddle melody. The chord progression used by guitar players for the standard breakdown is almost a jazz concept. For an eight-bar phrase in the key of A, it would follow this pattern: A-A7-D-D#dim-A6-Cdim-Bm7-E7-A-A7-D-D#dim-A6-Cdim-E7-A. This chord arrangement is suitable for such fiddle tunes as "Gray Eagle" and "Sally Goodin." Transpose the progression to the key of G major and it would fit with "Leather Britches" or "Bill Cheatum." This was no doubt, borrowed from the jazz guitarists of the 1920s and 1930s. The period featured such famous personalities as Eddy Lang, who performed with Joe Venuti, and jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. The guitar technique continues with such legendaries as the Franklin brothers, Royce and Ray, sons of Major Franklin, Anthony Mature of Huntsville, Joey McKenzie of Mansfield, and Bryan Jimmerson of Nacogdoches, just to mention a few. In some of the contests, only two guitarists are allowed but usually, the number is three guitars, along with a bass fiddle and occasionally, a piano. Other instruments such as five-string and tenor banjos, also accordions, dulcimers, and mandolins are frowned upon.
In view of all the above, it is safe to conclude that the Texas-style of old time fiddling did not have its beginnings with a single individual or event. We cannot state for certain as to how, where or when it all began, but we do know that it was fairly close to its present form among a number of fiddlers by the 1920s. Radio and phonograph recordings were important because they facilitated the diffusion process of the style as well as being instrumental in improving the level of stylistic uniqueness by borrowing from the variety of music these media had to offer, such as jazz, popular and classical. Then finally, there are the people, from Eck Robertson to James "Texas Shorty" Chancellor who have upheld the tradition with their skill and knowledge as to what is required to be the expert Texas style fiddler.